TANF turns 22: The Role of Income Assistance in Fighting Poverty

This week, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program turns 22. This amazing program provides temporarily assistance to families with children who are experiencing poverty. The program has been proven to be both vital to short- and long-term success for families and children by providing critical assistance where needed across the country. So where are we now with TANF and what can the program be used for to help people succeed independently?

While TANF is most often associated with income assistance in the form of cash, in actuality states have broad authority to determine the purpose and method of the program’s implementation. As a result, there is widespread variation in who can receive what type of assistance is provided through TANF, what conditions must be met to receive assistance and time restrictions – sometimes lifetime limits – on assistance.

One of the benefits of the program turning 22 is the long-range research that continues into program effectiveness. When studied, the cash assistance portion of TANF was shown to help children in poverty achieve better outcomes in school while TANF programs without income assistance did not show the same results. Interestingly, TANF provides income assistance to fewer families now than it did when it was created – the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that in 15 states fewer than 10 out of every 100 families in poverty receives income assistance.

While we may disagree about how to take care of those most in need, our many viewpoints can come together to see that everyone be afforded the chance to create their path to independence – strengthening TANF is one tool in the toolbox to accomplish just that.